Socrates said, “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” Unity Worldwide Ministries has always viewed education as a process of creating a safe and sacred space in which participants have the opportunity to not only experience the course materials but to also make practical use of them. We believe that this is made possible by creating learning experiences that are learner-directed, interactive and are applicable and relevant to life. Moving from an onsite educational program at Unity Village, Mo., to an online program via Unity Worldwide Spiritual Institute is right in line with these views.
Malcom Knowles, a pioneer in adult learning, defined six main characteristics of adult learners. Adult learning:
- Is self-directed/autonomous
- Utilizes knowledge and life experiences
- Is goal-oriented
- Is relevancy-oriented
- Highlights practicality
- Encourages collaboration
The courses that are being designed, both in the ministerial program and the SEE (Spiritual Education & Enrichment) program, are addressing these characteristics. Over the past year and a half, we have had a well-qualified team exploring best practices for not only online learning, but also learning management systems. We have looked closely at the course offerings in each program and, for many, revised and renewed them. We also added courses where there appeared to be a deficit. Our goal is to create an online program that focuses foremost on what the learner needs in order to be successful and to graduate learners who are well-prepared to take up the mantle of minister, licensed Unity teacher and certified spiritual educator.
One area that we have particularly focused on is how to help our learners build community and feel connected to one another when they could be logging in from anywhere in the world. We have addressed this by using a blended learning system along with a variety of onsite intensives. Blended learning is coursework that the learner completes on their own, and is then blended with a weekly or bi-weekly video conference call. This video conference call will be conducted with a system called Collaborate that can be accessed within the learning management system, Blackboard. The onsite intensives will occur throughout the year and will bring the learners together so they can deepen their understanding and practices.
One of the key benefits of online learning is that the learner can access the course materials from any place, at any time. All that is needed is an Internet connection and either a computer, mobile phone or tablet. Blackboard is fully responsive so the course materials will adapt to whatever device they are being viewed on. There is also a Blackboard student app through which learners can do everything from reading handouts to watching videos to turning in assignments to connecting on Collaborate.
The learning philosophy that Unity Worldwide Spiritual Institute will be using is Accelerated Learning. It is based on the latest brain research and focuses on the way we naturally learn. It also aligns with the six characteristics of adult learning.
According to the Accelerated Learning Center website, “Accelerated Learning addresses the whole person and uses physical activity, creativity, music, images, color, and other methods designed to get people deeply involved in their own learning.” Components of Accelerated Learning, also from their website, include:
- A Positive Learning Environment. People learn best in a positive physical, emotional, and social environment, one that is both relaxed and stimulating. A sense of wholeness, safety, interest, and enjoyment is essential for optimizing human learning.
- Total Learner Involvement. People learn best when they are totally and actively involved and take full responsibility for their own learning. Learning is not a spectator sport but a participatory one. Knowledge is not something a learner passively absorbs, but something a learner actively creates. Thus A.L. tends to be more activity-based rather than materials-based or presentations-based.
- Collaboration among Learners. People generally learn best in an environment of collaboration. All good learning tends to be social. Whereas traditional learning emphasizes competition between isolated individuals, A.L. emphasizes collaboration between learners in a learning community.
- Variety That Appeals to All Learning Styles. People learn best when they have a rich variety of learning options that allows them to use all their senses and exercise their preferred learning style. Rather than thinking of a learning program as a one-dish meal, A.L. thinks of it as a results-driven, learner-centered smorgasbord.
- Contextual Learning. People learn best in context. Facts and skills learned in isolation are hard to absorb and quick to evaporate. The best learning comes from doing the work itself in a continual process of “real-world” immersion, feedback, reflection, evaluation, and re-immersion.
Accelerated Learning (AL) is an approach to learning that maximizes each student’s learning potential.
As we move into this exciting time, we invite you to join us in seeing the immense possibilities that are before us. We are creating a new way of being with one another as well as creating programs that will help to move the Unity movement forward.